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South Africa’s New Electricity Minister Is Vested with Enormous Powers

By Marshal Gungubele, in Windhoek

Kgosientsho ‘Sputla’ Ramokgopa, the South African civil engineer appointed as his country’s new minister of electricity, has a mandate that reaches way beyond solving the crises at Eskom, the one-time largest power utility in Africa.

Ramakgopa was appointed in the context of the national state of disaster, declared in February 2023 by President Cyril Ramaphosa, “to respond to the electricity crisis and its effect.”

The escalation of the crisis would allow the government to implement “practical measures that we need to take to support businesses,” President Ramaphosa had declared.

The state of disaster mode would allow the government to remove red tape for energy projects, the President said. It will enable the exemption of critical infrastructure such as hospitals and water treatment plants from crippling power outages, which had held down economic growth for 15 long years.

Mr. Ramakgopa will be expected to facilitate the coordination of the numerous departments and entities involved in the crisis response, work with the Eskom leadership to turn around the performance of power stations, and accelerate the procurement of new generation capacity.

That means he will be performing some of roles that ordinarily would have been the remits of the Minister of Public Enterprises (Pravin Gordhan) and Minister of Mines and Energy (Gwede Mantashe).

Weeks before Ramakgopa’s appointment, Mr. Mantashe, himself a powerhouse in the ruling party ANC, had described the role of the would -be-Minister of electricity, as “project manager”, focusing exclusively on power outages. President Ramaphosa apparently thought differently. “To effectively oversee the electricity crisis response, the appointed minister will have political responsibility, authority and control over all aspects of the Energy Action Plan,” Ramaphosa said in the speech making the appointment.

South Africa experienced more than 200 days of power cuts in 2022, the worst on record. Eskom is saddled with $26Billion of debt, along with an ageing, lack-lustre- performing, fleet of power generating plants.

Ramakgopa, 48, was, prior to the new role, head of the Investment and Infrastructure Office in the Presidency. He was formerly the member of the executive committee (MEC) in charge of Economic Development and Agriculture in Gauteng, the province which hosts Johannesburg and Tshwane (the city formerly known as Pretoria). Between 2010 and 2016, he was the mayor of Tshwane.

Marshal Gungubele is the new Southern Africa correspondent for Africa Oil+Gas Report.

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